Several years ago I was asked to help a group of people in a Finance department to become a stronger team.  The punchline, after a couple of sessions, was that they didn’t need to be a team.  (More on that in a bit.) Are you struggling to create a team spirit when you’re just not a team? Teams have become so popular that we’re now overdoing it.  Here’s how to know if you should be a team and what to do if you shouldn’t.

Are we a team?

The big questions are whether or not you: 1) share a common goal; and 2) need to work interdependently to achieve that goal. Both need to be true for you to be a team.

A great example of a team is a group of Marketing experts. They share a common goal of promoting the brand and they are interdependent because the experts in market research, public relations, social media, and advertising work together to ensure the message resonates with customers and that the different channels complement one another. If the Marketing team lacks a tightly aligned vision or fails to make decisions together, ugly stuff happens.

In contrast, a common faux-teams is a standard Sales Team. If you are a bunch of sales people with separate territories, you’re probably not a team.  You don’t need to work together to be successful.  You each get orders from above and go independently out to your customers.

Let’s go back to the Finance group I mentioned earlier.  The leader was a Vice President and the members were Directors each working as a business partner supporting one of the company’s business units.  Their team affiliations were to the business unit teams that they were members of, not the finance group.  As a result, efforts at team building felt contrived and never gained traction.

What are we then?

I call it a community.  A community is a group of people who have things in common and who can be mutually beneficial to one another.  Being in a community with someone means that you have shared experiences.  In the sales example, maybe several members have the shared experience of trying to introduce a new product line into existing accounts.  In the Finance example, each of the business partners has to support their line leader through the budgeting process.

What does a community do?

You know what good communities do—they throw a barbeque in the summer and attend each other’s open houses at the holiday season.  They loan each other tools, and sugar, and they pitch in to babysit to give you a night out. Now transfer it to work. A good community shares resources, provides advice, and offers support.  If you’re a member of a community at work, get together informally and talk about approaches that are effective, or brainstorm solutions to a common problem, or just have a good laugh about your most infuriating experiences.

Why does it matter whether we’re a team or a community?

Teams are hard work.  To have an effective team, you need to invest time and energy to create tight alignment; develop deep trust; and figure out how to make good decisions, have productive conflict, and get things done together.  That investment is worth it if you are truly dependent on one another to accomplish your goals.  If not, just build a supportive, beneficial community.

Teams are great, but people, let’s not get carried away.

Further Reading

What’s Wrong with Team Building

You Get the Team you Deserve

It’s Not a Democracy

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